Perth socialites are choosing dress hire boutiques to save themselves the financial burden of buying designer gowns outright.
To successfully hire, a client will try an outfit, pay the hire price and return it the next day in the same condition after an evening of boasting a new design.
Jessica Pearson, owner and director of the dress hire boutique Tonight it’s Mine; says it’s about finding the right dress for an event that makes the client feel beautiful.
“When I came up with the concept I had no idea the dress hire industry was growing so rapidly in Perth,” says Ms Pearson (pictured in her usual workwear, left and in some of the gowns she hires, below).
“I came up with the name within 24 hours and then a few days later I Googled ‘dress hire’ and freaked out because the competition was large, but I’d already spent too much money on dresses to turn back.
“I’m still learning which dresses to buy and which will last.
“I’ve learnt there are a lot of things to take into account; material, style, shapes and sizes.”
It is a business model that she says gives designers free publicity by getting their name out there.
“People might not be able to afford it, but they want to be seen in the latest designer dress so they hire it, recognising the designer on social media,” she says.
“I think what separates ethical business to non ethical business is honesty.
“I tell my designers why I am buying the dress, and that I am a dress hire business owner, but I know some local hire businesses do it for the wrong reasons.”
Perth-based trademark attorney with the Wrays legal firm, Laura Tatchell, says that once a garment is bought, title in the article of clothing passes to the purchaser, but that there are legal implications to be aware of.
“If the garment has not been produced in commercial quantities, copyright may subsist in the artistic work embodied in the garment,” Ms Tatchell said.
However, she says there was nothing in the Copyright Act to prevent the buyer of a garment offering it for hire for profit.
“The author of the copyright in a garment cannot prevent hiring activities after a garment has been sold,” she says.
“If the rental of these garments misleads consumers that there is some sort of association between the boutique and the designer, it may constitute misleading and deceptive conduct, in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.”
Natalie Rolt of Natalie Rolt designs says that having her garments rehired helps increase their promotion.
“[The dress hire company is] another form of publicity that is amazing for any business especially being free,” Rolt says.
“We get to use the customer photos for our own publicity on social media.”
The Natalie Rolt label has introduced a hire section of its own.
“A lot of my customers were asking for older designs, but I do not remake older designs and usually only make 10 of each design,” Rolt says.
“I decided to cater for those customers by releasing the Natalie Rolt Wardrobe section,” she says.
Rolt says that dress hire is not the future of business for designers, but hire boutiques stocking high end designs will be popular among women attending many events not wanting to spend the full amount for a garment to be worn once.
Lecturer of Fashion Business at Polytechnic West TAFE, Lisa Piller, says there are not enough hire businesses to cause designers any harm at this stage.
“Perhaps in high end fashion it could be that a western suburbs lady might want to be seen wearing the latest Miu Miu, for example, but may not have the capacity to afford the outfit so she hires it,” Ms Piller says.
Ms Piller says there would be ethical issues if the dress hire company did not tell the designer they were hiring out the dress.
“When a designer creates a dress they make the decision to sell to a wholesaler or to a customer directly, but the whole process is transparent and the designer knows what the dress is being used for,” she says.
“If they sell to someone they believe is a customer, who rehires the dress to make a profit, it would be upsetting to the designer.”
Pearson says she bases her business on trust.
“I always tell my clients what label they are wearing and where they can buy the dress outright, and I have had some clients love their dress so much they do so,” she says.